July 6, 2014

Rector’s Reflection – July 6, 2014

In Rite I, there’s a declaration early in the service that’s called the Summary of the Law: “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” It was deleted from Rite II, but as time has gone by, I have wondered if the omission is a wise thing.

As I was preparing my sermon for this week and thinking about all the great things that this country has stood for and has done, I couldn’t help but be troubled by the lack of humility and civility… verging, in many cases, on downright meanness… that pervades almost every human institution, ironically in these times of rampant political correctness and the shrill condemnation of hate speech. ‘Loving thy neighbor as thyself’ apparently is no longer a requisite part of the equation for human interaction.

But then I remembered a conversation I had a long time ago with a man who objected to the obligation to love his neighbor as himself, based on his assertion that he didn’t love himself. End of obligation. The pathology of that assertion notwithstanding, maybe we’ve strayed so far from ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself’ that it is, for the moment, too lofty an idea… too self-righteous sounding… dare I say, too Christian sounding.

So I am positing a suggestion that might get us headed back toward civility – and maybe eventually toward love: good manners. Good manners have no creedal overtones, no dogmatic baggage. Good manners have no agenda beyond courtesy. Good manners don’t require heavy theological reflection. Good manners can exist anywhere, even in hypocrisy. Good manners are the manifestation of one of my mother’s maxims: ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.’

It’s worth a shot.